BFI London Film Festival 2016 Launch

Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2016. This year’s programme is bursting with cinematic delights. There are more galas than in previous years, and screen talk participants include Werner Herzog and Paul Verhoeven. Here are some of the films to look out for at London Film Festival 2016.

Headline Galas

The Birth of a Nation

The London Film Festival 2016’s opening gala A United Kingdom had already been announced, the Scorsese-produced, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire looks like a lot of fun. Elsewhere, plenty of hotly anticipated films including La La Land, Arrival and The Birth of a Nation. Writer-director Nate Parker also stars in the story of an enslaved preacher who led a revolt in 1830s Virginia. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is also a headline gala. An adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, the film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

The Handmaiden

This year sees additional galas, which will take place on a purpose built venue on the Strand. They include The Handmaiden, from director Chan-wook Park. The film looks as sumptuous as Park’s previous film Stoker. Miles Teller stars in Bleed For This, based on the true story of boxer Vinny Paziena. Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is the Sonic Gala. The hip hop musical features Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey and Ava DuVernay’s The 13th are among the special presentations this year.

Official Competition

My Life As A Courgette

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2016. Staring Isabelle Huppert, the film is an adaptation of a Philippe Dijan novel. Terence Davies’ A Quiet Presentation is a biopic of Emily Dickinson staring Cynthia Nixon. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about a young man struggling with his sexuality in 1980s Miami, looks like a great watch. In the First Feature Competition, Porto sees one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances, whilst animation My Life As A Courgette looks like a lot of fun. David Lynch: The Art Life is among the contenders for the Documentary Competition, as well as The Graduation. The latter is a documentary about a prestigious film school in Paris. Chasing Asylum, about the Australian government’s immigration policies, seems very topical.

Strands

The Salesman

The Love strand features Lovesong, director So Yong Kim’s film about a lonely young mother. It stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Highlights in the Debate category include Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman. A Separation‘s Farhadi has already won awards at Cannes. Mindhorn features in the Laugh strand. The film stars Julian Barratt as a washed-up 1980s TV detective. Dare features Christine, starring Rebecca Hall as the notorious television journalist. Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog looks to be a highlight of the Thrill section, with Nicholas Cage starring alongside Willem Dafoe. Another David Lynch connection (Cage and Dafoe starred in Lynch’s Wild at Heart), Blue Velvet Revisited, features in the Cult strand.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Cult also features I Am Not A Serial Killer, based on the young adult novel. The Innocents looks to be a highlight of the Journey strand. Anne Fontaine’s film is about a young doctor working for the French Red Cross in 1945. London Town, a coming of age film set in 1979 London, features in the Sonic strand. The Family strand includes Rock Dog, an animation featuring the voices of J.K. Simmons and Luke Wilson. Finally, Experimenta includes Have You Seen My Movie?; a must-see for cinema fans.

The full London Film Festival 2016 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 5th-16th October 2016.

Gothic at the British Film Institute

Last week the British Film Institute launched their Gothic project; the longest running season of film screenings and events ever held. The season commences in August, with the BFI Monster Weekend at the British Museum among other events. The full programme is yet to be announced, but here are some recommendations of films to see during the season…

The Haunting

Robert Wise’s 1963 haunted house movie is a genuinely unnerving experience. Locating the horror both internally and externally, The Haunting hurls its 1999 remake into the shade.

Dracula

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

The quintessential Hammer Horror movie, Dracula introduces Christopher Lee as Bram Stoker’s vampire count. The film is an excellent introduction to Hammer, as well as exhibiting the key traits of Gothic.

The Innocents

Another haunted house film, The Innocents is deeply unsettling. Based on  Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Jack Clayton’s film is a masterclass in psychological horror.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the finest examples of German Expressionism. The 1920 silent film is far reaching in its influence. As important as the visuals is the truly Gothic narrative of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The British Film Institute’s Gothic season runs from August 2013 to January 2014. For more information on screenings and events can be found here.

Film Review: The Awakening

Nick Murphy’s The Awakening is a supernatural chiller that is successful for the most part. The film is reminiscent of several other ghost films, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Writer and exposer of supernatural hoaxes, Florence Cathcart is inundated with requests after the First World War. Teacher Robert Mallory visits Florence to ask for her help with a disturbing matter. Children at his boarding school have reported sightings of an apparition…

There is something distinctly old-fashioned about The Awakening. Rather than feeling redundant, this feel is actually quite appealing. The scares in Murphy’s film are somewhat predictable, but are in keeping with the classic feel. The Awakening evokes The Innocents in both its style and its themes. Although it is not quite at the same level as the 1961 film, the atmosphere it generates is admireable.

The narrative works well to reel viewers in. The opening sequence is a great introduction to the work of Florence. It also pulls the curtain back on a fascinating subject: seances of the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. The sense of mystery keeps viewers hooked. Later in the film, old clichés are relied upon. It is a shame, as the film builds tension and mystery up to this point.

Rebecca Hall delivers a fine performance as Florence. The actress has good chemistry with co-star Dominic West. Art direction in The Awakening is fantastic, pivotal to generating atmosphere. The doll’s house sequence is marvellously executed, bringing genuine chills.

The Awakening may produce feelings of déjà vu, but it is perfect viewing if you are looking for some supernatural escapism.

The Awakening is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011. The film is released in cinemas on 11th November 2011.

Film Review: The Innocents

In its finest moments, The Innocents is deeply unsettling in a way few body horrors ever rival. It is a masterclass in psychological horror, in this respect. The film is not without its flaws, but for the most part in remains one of the eeriest British horror films.

Young governess Miss Giddens is employed to look after two young orphans by their uncle at their country house in Victorian England. Soon after she arrives at the idyllic estate, Miss Giddens becomes convinced that the place is haunted, and her fears for the children grow…

The Innocents excels in the way in which it generates a sinister atmosphere. Frequently the action is seen from the viewpoint of protagonist Miss Giddens. Therefore, when she is initially enamoured with her new surroundings, it is easy to agree with her. Similarly, when unusual events start to occur, it is understandable why she is so perturbed; after all her perception is the one the audience shares.

Director Jack Clayton builds tension slowly but assuredly in The Innocents. At first the pace is slow, as little by little it is revealed that something is amiss. What works adeptly is the way any supernatural activity always sits firmly in the category of the uncanny. As the apparitions are seen from Miss Giddens’ point of view, it is ambiguous as to whether such things are occurring, or whether they are figments of the protagonist’s mind. The slow reveal employed in The Innocents allows ideas to ruminate in the mind of the viewer. What we imagine is often far worse than what a film is able to depict.

When supernatural activity becomes apparent, it is suitably chilling. As there is a wait for such incidents to occur, anticipation has been adequately built. With the skillful use of lighting and cinematography the atmosphere is ripe. After a few false scares, Miss Giddens experience with the apparitions is incredibly tense.

After such a wonderful build up, the climax feels rushed in comparison. Although there are moments of fear, it feels unsatisfactory given the uncanny feel to the rest of the film. Furthermore, whilst the sound aids immensely in generating the atmosphere, at times it is simply to high pitched and causes more discomfort than anything else.

Deborah Kerr gives a formidable performance as Miss Giddens; both her love for the children and her torment over events appear sincere. Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin as children Miles and Flora are perfectly cast. The unsettling nature of the film owes a lot to their performances.

The Innocents is not the greatest horror film, but it should take its place in the upper echelons of haunted house films. Fans of this sub-genre should definitely check it out.

The Innocents was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Deborah Kerr season.